Tom Jurgen’s search for a young vampire leads him to a murder case—and a conflict between vampires and werewolves.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
“We’re worried that our son might be . . .” Mrs. Johansson hesitated. “A vampire.”
Not exactly what I’d expected. Although life was different when I was growing up.
Rose Johansson sat next to her husband, Rick, in their living room in the northern suburbs of Chicago. They looked like the typical middle-aged couple: graying hair, comfortable jeans, family photos on the piano—and a little nervous about talking to a private detective about their son.
I nodded. “As it happens, I have some experience in . . . dealing with vampires.”
“We don’t want you to kill him.” Rick Johansson jabbed a finger. “No matter what.”
I lifted a hand. “I’m on friendly terms with several vampires.”
Of course, if the kid had killed someone . . . but I didn’t have to deal with that right now.
Me? Thomas Hale Jurgen, ex-reporter, now a private detective, with a specialty in the supernatural. I didn’t go looking for this niche. It just found me, and now I’ve got to deal with it if I still want to pay for things like the internet, medications for anxiety and depression, and dates with my girlfriend Rachel.
“All right.” They’d given me coffee. I took a sip. “Tell me about your son. What’s his name?”
“Jason.” Rick crossed his arms. “It was my father’s name.”
“So why do you think he’s a vampire?”
Rosa told most of it. Jason, 22, had been living at home after finishing college with a degree in marketing. He started working the night shift at a local copy shop while trying to find a job. He was obsessed with a local band called Vampireca. He listened to their music and went to shows downtown, then slept all day.
“It was okay.” Rick shrugged. “I mean, holding down a job, not making trouble, paying for things. He’s a good kid.”
“But there was blood on his clothes.” Mrs. Johansson rubbed her eyes. “Not a lot. I thought he was fighting. He didn’t really explain. The next night he didn’t eat anything for dinner, and he had a Band-Aid in his neck.” She pressed a finger on her throat. “Right here.”
“He didn’t come home on Sunday morning.” Today was Tuesday. Rick heaved a long sigh. “I don’t care if he’s . . . you know. I just want my son back home.”
He patted his wife’s arm as she sobbed softly.
I hated this part. “You realize there’s no cure? If he’s really a vampire, we can’t change him back.”
Rick nodded, his face shaking as if he was thinking through the ramifications. Finally, he choked out, “Like I said, I just want my son back home.”
I nodded. “All right. Can you give me some pictures?”
Rick stood up. “You need a check, don’t you?”
I hated this part too, especially when clients were in pain. But it came with the job. “Yes, I do. Um, first day’s fee? I’ll send you an itemized hourly bill, of course—”
“Just write the check.” Mrs. Johansson reached for a tissue and blew her nose. “Please?”
Back in my apartment, I looked over the photos of Jason. He had long, unruly hair and a blunt nose, and he wore wide round glasses. I made two few phone calls and left two messages. I wouldn’t get a call back from either one before sundown.
Then I started on the list of friends Jason’s parents had given me. Half didn’t answer. Those who did hadn’t heard from him in a couple of days, but they agreed to call me or his parents if they did. The nighttime manager of the copy center where Jason worked wasn’t in. The manager I spoke to knew nothing, but he took a message.
Looking for a missing person isn’t so much as process of looking for the person, but finding someone who knows where the person is. In forty-five minutes, though, I’d run through the usual suspects.
So after a cup of coffee I steeled my nerves and called Detective Anita Sharpe.
“Jurgen? What the hell?” Her fingers were pounding on a keyboard. “I’m in the middle of ten reports. This better be important.”
I winced. Sharpe and I got along fine, most days. I wasn’t sure this would be one of them. “There might be a new vampire around. His human name was Jason.” Most vampires take on a new name once they’re turned—something dramatic. “Have you heard anything?”
“Funny you should mention that.” She snorted. “Hawkins is on a scene that looks like a vamp murder. Maybe you should call him.”
“He hates me.”
“We all hate you, Jurgen.” But Sharpe laughed. “It’s just the job. Don’t take it personally.”
I was used to that. “Thanks, detective.”
Hawkins picked up his phone right away. “What? Jurgen? I don’t have time. I’m on a crime scene here.”
“Is it a vampire killing?”
“Not that it looks like. The body’s right here. There’s blood and fur all over the place. Crime scene techs are still looking it over.”
Fur? “Wait—who’s the victim?”
“Rigo Holland, in a dingy apartment over here on the west side. You have some special interest in this?”
I wasn’t sure. “I’m looking for a kid who might be a brand new vampire. Sharpe said—”
“I don’t care what she said. Body is bloody. Looks like the victim was a musician—there’s a couple guitars and posters of some band around the room. Vampire-something.”
My memory clicked. “Vampireca?”
“Let me—oh, yeah. That mean anything?”
The band that Jason liked. “Not sure. I’ll get back to you.” I hung up before he could ask me any questions.
I did an online search and found the band’s website in 3.2 seconds. Rigo Holland was Vampireca’s lead singer, backed by two other men and a woman. Not surprisingly, there was no mention of Holland’s death on the page. They might not even know.
I sent an email to the band’s agent, Linda Gilleran, asking if they’d had any contact with a young man named Jason Johansson. It seemed worth a shot.
Rachel and I were watching Mindhunter on Netflix that night when my phone buzzed. Linda Gilleran, Vamperica’s agent. “Just a second.”
Rachel rolled her eyes and stood up, grabbing a mostly empty bowl of peanuts. “I’ll be right back.”
I picked up. “Tom Jurgen speaking.”
“Mr. Jurgen? This is Linda Gilleran. I was unable to talk to the band during the day. You can imagine this has been a—difficult day.”
“I bet.” I waited.
“I’ve only spoken to Adam.” That would be Adam Marx, Vampireca’s keyboardist. “He doesn’t know the boy’s name, but he’s willing to talk to you.”
I scribbled down a number. “Thanks. Uh, wait a minute?” My mind was scrambling. She was unable to talk to the band until this evening? “Are they vampires?”
“W-what?” A short coking sound came from her throat.
“It’s okay, I’ve talked to vampires.” Some of my best friends . . . “Are they?”
“Y-yes. They are. I’m not,” she added defensively. “And they’ve never threatened me. It’s—we don’t talk about it much.”
“I understand. Have the police been able to question them yet?”
“Adam said someone named Hawkins had called him, and he’d already questioned Tina.” Tina Michelini, the bass player. “I assume he or someone will be talking to the rest tonight.”
Wait a minute—Hawkins had said he had a body. Not all vampires instantly crumble into dust when they get staked, like on Buffy, but killing a vamp without staking it is—difficult.
So why would Rigo’s body be intact?
Not a question Gilleran was likely to be able to answer. “Okay. Thank you.”
“Vampires.” Rachel sighed. “Can’t you ever get hired to find someone’s runaway cat?”
“I wish.” I moved to my dining room table. “This might take a while. Go ahead and watch the next episode.”
She started the show as I called Adam Marx.
I’d seen pictures on the band’s website. He had long black hair and wore sunglasses all the time. He picked up on the second buzz. “Yo.”
“Adam Marx? This is Tom Jurgen. Linda Gilleran said I could call.”
“Yeah.” He groaned. “Sorry. Tough day, you know.”
“I understand. Have the police questioned you yet?”
“Yeah, a woman named Sharpe. She just left. Look, Linda asked about Jason, but—look, I don’t want to talk on the phone. Can we get together?”
The bar was called the Backroom, in Old Town. It was quiet and dark.
“This doesn’t count as a date.” Rachel punched my arm as I held the door for her. “You still owe me from last week.”
“Okay, okay.” I followed her inside, peered at the tables, and spotted Adam near the back.
She’d insisted on coming because I was meeting a vampire. And I wanted her along because she’s at least a little psychic. We made a good team that way.
Adam was sitting with Tina and the fourth from the band, an African-American man named Brandon Toth. Tina was a slender blonde in a T-shirt and jeans—I caught Rachel checking me out to make sure I wasn’t checking her out—and Brandon wore camouflage pants and a black sweatshirt.
Adam stood up and looked Rachel over. “Hi.”
Rachel smiled. “Hello there.”
I bit my lip. Rachel was wearing a vest over a white T-shirt and slightly tight jeans. Okay, she looked good.
I introduced myself and Rachel. “Thanks for talking to us.”
“Whatever.” Tina stretched her arms, as if she was exhausted. “I just can’t believe—anything.”
“He was 90 years old,” Adam said. “He claimed he played with the Stones at Altamont.”
“I’m pretty sure he was lying about that.” Brandon sipped what looked like a Manhattan. “I mean, he might have been at Altamont. In the audience.”
A waitress in a short skirt appeared. Rachel ordered a beer and a Coke for me.
I looked around the table. “So about Jason—”
“Yeah.” Adam nodded. “I didn’t want to tell Linda about him. He’s kind of a groupie. A little weird. But kind of sweet.”
“We tolerated him.” Brandon shrugged. “It’s great to have fans, you know?”
I nodded. “So, is he a vampire?”
Adam glanced at Tina. Brandon stared at his drink.
“I didn’t do it!” Tina slapped the table, shaking everyone’s drinks. “I found him outside after a show, and I took him home. He was—I remember my first days. You don’t know what you’re doing. I didn’t want him to get staked, so yeah, I took him home and we took care of him—”
She glared. “Me and Rigo. We’re—we were together. Sometimes.”
The waitress brought our drinks. “So do you know where Jason is now?” I sipped my Coke.
“I haven’t seen him in over a week.” Tina shrugged. “Who knows? It’s not my problem.”
“He called me last night.” Brandon tapped his fingers on the table. “He sounded fine. He wanted to know when our next show is.”
“Where is he staying?”
“I don’t know.” Adam looked at Rachel. “I let him stay at my place a couple of nights.” He winked. “But then he left.”
Damn it. Was he hitting on Rachel in front of me? I tried to focus. “Do any of you have a number for him?”
Adam and Brandon pulled out their phones. “Here.” Brandon shoved his screen in my face. “But he doesn’t answer.”
I took down the number. Then, because I had to ask—“What do you think happened to Rigo?”
Adam stiffened. Brandon looked down at his drink. Tina looked away.
Rigo’s murder wasn’t my problem, unless Jason was involved somehow. The coincidence was pretty strong. But I’d hit some undead nerves. “Sorry. I was just—”
“Weregild.” Adam made a fist. “Those bastards.”
“What’s the Weregild?” I glanced at Rachel. She’d been quiet, listening to everything, and that made me nervous. I felt her foot nudge my leg.
“They hate us.” Tina looked up, her shoulders tense. “And, you know, the other way around.”
“They’re werewolves.” Adam grimaced.
“Oh my god.” Rachel’s eyes went wide. “You mean that’s not just a movie cliché?”
“Don’t even bring up Twilight,” Brandon warned.
“Stupid movie.” Tina made a gagging motion with her hand.
“No, no.” Adam shook his head. “It’s not like an eternal war between vampires and werewolves. Mostly we get along fine. They’re just pretentious assholes.”
“We played a few gigs with them.” Brandon finished his drink and waved to the waitress. “Always quoting Baudelaire and Bob Dylan like they knew both of them in person.”
“Not showing up on time, overplaying their sets . . .” Adam leaned back, disgusted.
“And their female singer’s a skank.” Tina closed her eyes, shuddering.
I had to ask. “Do they . . . perform as werewolves?”
Adam laughed. “They can’t perform at all when there’s a full moon. Otherwise . . . yeah, they usually do a transformation, but the leader singer goes backstage so no one sees it happen.”
“You can control it,” Brandon said. “Except when there’s a full moon. I don’t know what they do then.”
That might explain the fur in Rigo’s apartment. But again, that wasn’t my problem. Still, it was something to mention to Hawkins.
I finished my Coke and glanced at Rachel. She nodded and stood up. “Thanks.”
“Sorry about your loss.” I shook hands with the two men. Tina wrapped her arms around her chest and nodded without looking at me.
Out in the Honda I tried the number for Jason. No answer. I left a message.
“Did you pick up anything?” I checked over my shoulder and eased onto the street.
“Tina’s—conflicted. The other two are just in shock. But she’s angry. At Rigo.”
I shrugged. “They were dating, apparently. That usually leads to a certain amount of mixed feelings.” I braced myself for a punch.
Instead she laughed and patted my knee. “You got that right.”
The next morning I tried Jason’s number again. Still no answer. I called his parents. They didn’t recognize the number, so maybe Jason had gotten a new phone. They said they’d call and let me know if they got an answer.
Then I looked up “Weregild” on the internet.
They billed themselves as a “wolf punk” band (as opposed to Vampireca, which described its music as “goth hip-hop”). Five members, four men and one woman. The woman, who went by Valentine without a last name, had long thin blonde hair like Tina and posed in a crop top under her profile picture. Whether or not she was a “skank” I couldn’t determine.
Interesting coincidence: Linda Gilleran was their agent too.
Whatever. Not my problem. I did leave a message for Hawkins, alerting him to the werewolf connection and asking about the presence of Rigo’s body. Then I moved on to other cases. No kitties in trees, but a few background checks, and a cheating spouse case I could probably deal with through credit card records.
Then my phone buzzed. Anemone. What the hell? I looked through the window behind my table to make sure I hadn’t fallen asleep at my laptop. “Is this—are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” Anemone sighed softly. “I didn’t call back last night. It was . . . a long night.”
“What’s going on?” Not that I cared about Anemone’s health. But if something happened to her, I’d have to find another vamp to replace as queen of the vampires for half of Chicago. Clifford Page wouldn’t want to take over as vampire king, and I didn’t know any other vamp who could do it.
Still . . . okay, Anemone and I weren’t exactly friends. But I didn’t want her to die. And not just because it would be inconvenient for me. I’ve had too many people die on me.
She took a gulp of something that I hoped was water. Or at least wine. “You wanted to know about JJ?”
I stiffened. “Is that his name now?”
She laughed. “I saw the picture you sent me. I found him the other night. Trying to attack a kid outside a bar. I slapped him around, took him home, gave him some blood, and then I let him go. I don’t know where he is right now. But he said he used to be Jason, so I’m pretty sure that’s who you’re looking for.”
“Have you seen him since?”
“No. I hope he’s staying out of trouble.” Another sip.
“What do you know about a band named Vampireca? And another one called Weregild?”
Anemone snorted. “Hipsters. If I didn’t know Rigo for years I’d think they were pretenders. Weregild—now they’re dangerous. They hunt.”
“Humans?” I shivered. Chicago wasn’t ready for a new supernatural threat, even a year or so after the vampire wars.
“Humans, animals, whatever they can get their claws into. Fortunately, they only have to hunt once a month, and from what I’ve heard, they take precautions—locking themselves up, sometimes, or simply providing a source of food so they don’t have to prowl.”
Source of food? I didn’t want to ask. “Do you know them personally?”
“I saw one of their concerts once. I don’t like their kind of music.”
That was all I could think to ask. Except for one more question: “What are you doing up?
Anemone laughed again. “Vampires get insomnia too.”
I worked on some other cases, but then curiosity killed my cat and I called Linda Gilleran again.
“Yeah, I represent Weregild too. And lots of other bands. I keep them separate.” She sounded tired. And annoyed.
“They don’t like each other.”
“There are always rivalries. Look, half of my clients hate the other half at least some of the time. ‘Why did they get that gig?’ ‘Why aren’t we getting reviewed?’ “Can’t you get us on the cover?’ It’s really tiresome.”
“I can imagine.” I hesitated. “Would it be possible to talk to them?”
She tried to hide a groan. “I’ll pass your number to Quentin. He’s the lead singer. He might not call you back.”
“That’s fine. Thank you.”
But Quentin called me back right away. “Hello, Tom Jurgen? I got a message that you wanted to talk to me?”
“Thanks for calling me back.” This was a long shot, but—“Have you been in contact with a young man named Jason Johansson? He might go by JJ.”
“Uhh . . .” A long hesitation. “Yeah. He came to our show last night. Which was weird. Usually he hangs out with Vamperica.”
“Do you know where he is?”
Another hesitation. “Is he in trouble?”
“No, nothing like that. His parents haven’t heard from him.”
“Parents?” Quentin seemed puzzled. Then he laughed. “Sorry. I don’t usually—I mean, I sort of don’t think of a vampire as having a mom and dad. Look, I can’t talk about this right now. I’ll call the rest of the band, but if you want to see him, I’m pretty sure he’ll be there tonight.”
“At the Atragon. It’s on Wilson, right off the el. We played there last night, Vamperica is playing tonight. Then tomorrow we both play. It’s going to be awesome. And loud.”
“Wait a minute.” My head was swimming. Werewolves versus vampires in a battle of the bands? This sounded more and more like a straight-to-DVD movie. “Their lead singer just got murdered—and they’re doing a show?”
Quentin laughed. “The show must go on, right? You snooze, you lose.”
“But he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.” I took a deep breath, rubbed my eyes and tried to focus. My clients wanted their son back. That was my priority. “What time does it start?”
“Nine. But they’re not going on until after midnight. Lots of other bands come first. But look, if you’re going to come see them tonight, you ought to come for the show tomorrow night. There’ll be food.”
I checked the time. 3:30. “I’ll see if I can find a date.”
Tickets were forty dollars apiece at the door, but the wristbands we got entitled us to snacks and drinks. The music roared against our eardrums, and kids jostled us from every direction as we moved through the throng.
“Okay, this sort of counts as a date.” Rachel looked at the snack bar. “Can I get nachos?”
“Whatever you want.” I was hungry too.
The Atragon was a legendary concert venue, not huge like the United Center or the Horizon, but not small and intimate either. It had attracted local bands and up-and-comers over the years. The Ramones had supposedly played there in the early 1980s, along with New Order and a few other bands I didn’t recognize.
We found seats near the back. The band onstage called itself The Suits, and they were playing a version of “Stop In the Name of Love” at about eight times the tempo of the original version. Somehow it worked.
I checked my phone. 11:02 p.m. Vampireca should be coming up soon. I stole a nacho from Rachel and stood up. “I’m going to look for Jason.”
“Okay.” She sipped her beer. “I kind of like this.”
I made my way down the side, toward a door behind the stage. A bouncer spotted me before I was halfway there. ”No way.”
He looked like a Chicago Bears linebacker. “Yeah.” I turned to take a look at the fans in the front row. None of them looked like Jason.
The music roared. I reached slowly into my jacket and pulled out my business card. I scribbled “JJ” on the back. “Look,” I shouted. “Can you get this backstage? They know me.”
The bouncer didn’t believe me, but at least he didn’t rip the card apart with his teeth. “Go sit down.”
By now the Suits were playing something else hard and fast, with a grinding beat I could actually follow. Rachel was swaying to the music.
I held her hand, and we sort of danced—me awkwardly, clomping my feet, Rachel like a ballerina even with the folding seats around her legs—until the song ended in a crescendo of guitar chords,
The lights on the stage turned a dim purple. The lead singer flashed his middle finger and shouted, “Next week in Cleveland!”
They exited the stage. The lights came up, harsh and yellow and bright.
Rachel sat down, panting. “That wasn’t bad.”
“You kids and your crazy music.” But she was right. Maybe I needed to expand my musical tastes.
I stayed on my feet, looking for Jason. After ten minutes the lights lowered again.
A smoky voice over the loudspeaker announced: “Sit down. Or stand up! Here comes the act! This is what you came for. The Atragon proudly gives all you assholes—Vamperica!”
The lights went dark. The crowd shrieked. I grabbed for Rachel’s hand as a guitar strummed from the back of the stage.
Then a strobe light flashed from the ceiling, bright and fast enough to cause seizures. Adam walked forward in a leather vest and jeans, fangs gleaming in the white light.
“This . . .” He stomped a black boot on the stage and hit a loud chord. “This is for Rigo.”
His fingers hit the strings, and the music roared. The crowd was silent for a moment, and then everyone around us leaped to their feet screaming, “Rigo! Rigo! RIGO!”
Then Brandon stalked out, his chest bare under a leather vest, brandishing his guitar like an assault rifle. Tina followed with her bass guitar, in cutoff shorts and a tight white T-shirt. A knife was strapped to her leg.
They planted themselves at the front of the stage, their faces fierce—and their lips pulled back, showing their fangs.
Then they spread apart. Tina crouched between Adam and Brandon, her fingers on strings, her shoulders tense. Waiting.
The guitars burst with sound. Adam and Brandon leaned back, grinning, and Tina danced.
“Blood . . . give me a flood . . . I want your love . . . give me your blood . . .” Tina writhed on the stage as Adam and Brandon waved their guitars.
They seemed awkward onstage together, as if they were still working out how to perform without Rigo. Brandon struggled to keep up with Adam, and Tina dropped a lot of words, but they made up for it with their energy and anger.
The audience didn’t care. They shouted, screamed, and danced, jumping up and down until the first song ended with a burst of noise. Adam and Brandon dropped to their knees and Tina lifted her arms, throwing her head back, shrieking like a bat.
The crowd screamed back.
I pressed my lips to Rachel’s ear. “I’ve got to look for Jason.”
She nodded. Be careful, her lips said. It was too loud to hear each other.
I squeezed her hand and made my way forward.
Jason was there, in the first row, reaching both arms up over the edge of the stage. He’d shaved his head almost bare, and he wore loose shorts and a black sweatshirt, but I recognized his wide round glasses and his blunt nose. He was singing at the top of his lungs, leaning back, his eyes in slits, bouncing against the other fans.
I pushed between a big woman and her husky boyfriend, and felt a punch on my shoulder from one of them. Then I grabbed Jason’s arm. “Jason! Hey!”
He twisted around. “What the f—”
I leaned in. “Jason!” The speakers were booming in my ears. I could barely hear my own voice. “Your parents! I told them I’d find you! Let them know you’re all right!”
“Later!” He shoved me away. “Talk to me later! After the show! Come on, let me do this!”
I shoved a card into his hand. “Later.”
The fans around me danced and shrieked. I backed away, my legs shaking. On stage, Adam played a guitar solo that ripped the air. Brandon and Tina stood with their arms around each other’s shoulders.
Rachel grabbed my hand when I got back to her. “Find him?”
I nodded. “Later.”
The show ended at 1:30. Rachel and I waited while the fans fought their way out. A short hallway led to a wide staircase down to the street, but it was a bottleneck that could easily become a deathtrap if someone tripped.
“Good concert.” Rachel patted my arm. “I should download an album.”
I rubbed my ears. “I know all the fun places.”
Once the crowd died down, we made our way forward. The same bouncer spotted me and smiled. “You again.”
“I’m looking for a kid named Jason.” I showed him a picture on my phone. “Is he inside? He hangs out with the band.”
“Let me see.” He knocked on the door. “Your name?”
I handed him another card.
A minute later we were backstage. Adam was drinking from a bottle of Jack Daniels, wearing just a pair of boxers. Brandon sat in a chair, gulping a bottle of water and wiping his arms with a towel.
Tina sat on the floor, legs crossed, flipping through a magazine. And Jason . . .
Jason leaned against a table, his eyes bright. “That was just great! That was the best one ever. I loved that. I thought—”
“Shut up.” Adam slammed his bottle down. “I don’t know why—” Then he spotted Rachel. “Hello again.”
“Great show.” Rachel looked Adam’s body up and down. I tried not to get jealous. And failed.
Brandon threw his towel on the floor. “That was hard. Without Rigo—”
“Shut up!” Tina stomped a foot on the floor. “Rigo’s dead! We have to go on, or we can’t do anything!”
“We know.” Adam grabbed for a T-shirt. “This was just—hard. But we have to move on.”
“It’s only been two days.” Brandon stood up. “I told you, it’s too soon—”
“So we let Weregild win this?” Adam leaned down to find a pair of jeans. “That’s not what Rigo would have wanted.”
“Guys, it was a great show!” Jason staggered forward. “God, I’m hungry. But you did great—”
“Go away!” Tina whirled on him, arms spread. “Just stop hanging around, all right? Get out!”
Jason’s hands curled, and for a moment I thought he was going to attack Tina. And get killed. Then he slumped. “Okay. Fine.” He wiped his nose on his wrist. “I’m still coming back for every show. I love your band. I’ve been following you for years.”
“You need to go.” Adam turned his back.
Brandon shrugged. “Sorry.”
Jason looked like he might cry. But he headed for the door.
Out in the hall we caught up with him. “Jason? We need to talk.”
He kept walking. Rachel jumped around me and put a hand on his arm. “Just for a minute.”
Jason turned and looked at her for the first time. “Who are you?”
Her hazelnut eyes have a strong effect when she wants them to. “I’m Rachel. Tom’s girlfriend.”
“Oh.” His eyes flickered at the word “girlfriend,” but he didn’t start walking away again. “What do you want?”
I answered. “Your parents hired me to find you.”
“Well, you did.” He stiffened his shoulders. “You can tell them that.”
“I’d like you to call them.” I held out my phone. “Just tell them you’re all right.”
“Do you have a place to stay?” Rachel asked.
He shook his head, helpless. “I got kicked out of the motel. They wouldn’t let me sleep all day. And I’m almost out of money.”
“You can stay with me.” I pocketed my phone. “But you’ll have to call your parents.”
Rachel raised an eyebrow. I shrugged a shoulder. I couldn’t very well tell Rick and Rose Johansson I’d let their son sleep in the streets. In the daytime, when he might burn up.
Jason sighed. “Okay. Fine. But I need some—some blood. It’s been two days.”
I nodded. “I know a place.”
With the end of the vampire wars, the city had set up a series of blood distribution centers for vamps. We stopped at one of the HBDCs (Hemovore Blood Distribution Center) so Jason could get his fix. He had to give his vampire name and add his poto to the database, but that was the only registration the techs there required. The cops had pressed for full details, but Anemone and Page both insisted that no vamp would give up information on where they slept, making the whole operation useless—they’d just go back to hunting humans.
“A pint? That’s it?” Jason stared at the bottle.
“That’s the amount.” The tech was a nervous Hispanic woman. “One pint every three days.”
“We had to negotiate for that much,” I told him. “Don’t argue.” They had security guards armed with stakes as well as Glocks.
So Jason drank his pint in a small private room and emerged, disappointed. But he came back to the car with us and sat quietly in back as I drove back to my apartment.
Upstairs he sat down on my couch and I handed him my phone with his parent’s number queued up. “Call.”
He looked at the Mickey Mouse clock over the door into the kitchen. “It’s three in the morning.”
“They’re your parents. They won’t mind.”
He pressed “Talk.” After a moment he stuttered, “H-hello? Dad?”
Rachel and I went into the kitchen.
“At least it’s not strippers,” Rachel got a beer from the refrigerator.
One time I’d brought a bunch of dancers home after a monster had attacked them behind their club. “I had to do something. By the way, did you have to flirt with Adam like that?”
She giggled. “A girl’s got to keep in practice. Jealous?” She ran a finger down my chest.
“Of course. I saw his chest just like you did.”
She kissed me and then opened her beer. “Feel better?”
I grinned. “A little.”
“Mr. Jurgen?” Jason called from the living. “My parents want to talk to you.”
I grabbed a bottle of water and went out. “Tom Jurgen speaking.”
“Mr. Jurgen?” It was Jason’s father. “Thank you.”
“No problem.” Jason was sitting with his head in his hands, trembling. “He can stay here tonight—tomorrow, I mean. Then you’ll have to make other arrangements.”
“I understand. Send me your bill. You can include tomorrow on it if you want.”
“Thanks. I’ll be in touch.”
“Now what?” Jason sat up. “Can you keep the sun out?”
“I have blackout curtains in the bedroom.” And a sleeping bag. “I’ll need to come in once or twice to use the bathroom.”
He rolled his eyes. “Okay, I guess.”
I checked the weather on my phone. Dawn wasn’t for another three and a half hours. I pulled a chair from the dining room table. “As long as we’ve got some time, I want to ask you a few questions.”
Rachel yawned. “I’m going to bed.” She lived upstairs.
“Okay.” She had to be tired. Like me.
I sat down. “So Jason, what do you know about Rigo’s murder?”
Rachel let her hand drop from the doorknob. “Maybe I’ll stay for a few minutes.”
“Whatever you want.” Maybe she could pick up a lie or two. “Jason?”
“Nothing.” He lifted both hands. “I mean, everybody was upset. Even Tina.”
“Tina?” I swallowed some water.
“They had a fight. I mean, they had a lot of fights, so it wasn’t a big deal. Adam was more mad at him, but he was almost crying when I saw him. And vampires don’t cry easy.” He glanced at Rachel.
“Why was Adam mad?”
“He thought Rigo was getting too chummy with Weregild. Tina was on his side, but he really got into it with Rigo one night.”
I frowned. “I thought you guys—I mean, the band hated Weregild.”
“We do. But Adam hates them more than anybody. I don’t know why. Tina just hates Valentine.”
The skank. “What do you know about Weregild?”
He closed his eyes for a moment. “Their music’s okay. I’ve met a few of them. Kind of stuck up, like Adam says, but not that bad.”
“Did you hang around with them?” Rachel sipped her beer.
“A little. I really like Vamperica, though. For years. And they were pretty nice to me for a while.” He groaned softly. “I guess I got on their nerves, hanging around so much. Especially after Rigo.” He bent forward, staring at his shoes. “Can I have a beer?”
I got him one from the fridge. “Quentin says you were at their show last night.”
“You talked to him?” He gulped the beer. “Yeah. I had to do something, right? It was a decent show. Not like tonight. But Quentin did his transformation thing again. That’s always cool.”
Rachel and I looked at each other. I rubbed my eyes. “What about the werewolf thing? How did they all get turned?”
“I don’t know about all of them. Quentin got bit when he was 11, but he didn’t start transforming until a few years later. A puberty thing, I guess.” He glanced at Rachel, embarrassed. “Valentine had a boyfriend who was a werewolf, and I guess that did it, because of, you know—sex.”
Rachel smirked. “It’s okay. I’ve heard of sex.”
“So having sex with a werewolf might make you a werewolf?” I thought about that for a moment until I caught Rachel’s glare. “I’m not thinking about it for myself.”
“I guess.” Jason turned red, like a 9-year-old in Sex Ed class. “I don’t really know.”
“I wonder if it works with vampires.” Rachel smiled. “Don’t worry, I’m not thinking about it either.”
I went to my laptop and pulled up the Atragon’s website. Both bands were playing tomorrow night. Those tickets were twice as expensive.
My eyes were tired. This wasn’t my problem, after all. I’d found Jason, reconnected him with his parents, and by tomorrow night he wouldn’t be my problem anymore.
“You’re going to keep working on it, aren’t you?” Rachel stood behind my shoulder.
I nodded. “I was a reporter too long.”
She sighed, but kissed my head. “I’m going to bed. Call me before you do anything stupid.”
Jason looked over the couch as Rachel left. “Hey, do you have any video games?”
Jason watched TV until 6:30, when I unrolled my sleeping bag on the bed and got blankets and a pillow out so I could sleep on the sofa. I made sure the blackout curtains were tight as Jason huddled in the sleeping bag, and then I collapsed on the sofa, exhausted.
I dreamed about werewolves in London, to the tune of the Warren Zevon song. Rachel walked out of Trader Vic’s drinking a piña colada, and her red hair was perfect.
Then Tina stalked down the street, half werewolf, half vampire. Literally—her left side was covered with fur, but on the right her skin was pale. She flicked her middle finger as she walked past me.
I woke up sweating. 9:15. Not enough sleep, especially since I’d be up late tonight. But I had bills to pay.
I crept into the bedroom. Jason was wrapped inside the sleeping bag, breathing shallowly as I grabbed clothes from my dresser. I brushed my teeth and showered as quickly as I could, got dressed in the bathroom, and tossed yesterday’s clothes into a corner.
Coffee helped me wake up. So did a bowl of Lucky Charms and the morning comics. I scanned the newspaper headlines, growling at the latest news from Washington, Springfield, and city hall. Scandal, budget deficits, police shootings, and taxes. The world was going to hell in a handbasket, even without vampires and werewolves helping.
It reminded me to take my medication. It was helping with my depression and anxiety. Lately I’d been feeling almost normal again. I’d have to talk to Dr. Neral about that. My psychiatrist.
I swallowed my pills, carried my bowl back to the kitchen and refilled my coffee, then sat down at the dining room table again and opened my laptop.
I found a short review of Vamperica’s show last night on an independent news website. “Vampireca draws blood, sets the stage for tomorrow’s battle,” the headline read.
Last night’s show gave viewers Vampireca at its best, the so-called ‘Vampire Band’ unleashing its strongest songs on an enthusiastic crowd with ear-blowing music, even in the absence of its lead singer, Rigo Holland, victim of an unsolved murder only a few nights before. New lead singer Adam Destry carried the mantle with confidence, his voice a howl of anger and contempt. Backup guitarist Brandon Y melted the strings, and singer Tina Destroyer blasted the room with her vocals. Tonight, the band faces off with its rival, Weregild, in a battle of the bands that’s sure to leave no survivors.
I only hoped “no survivors” was hyperbole.
After a second cup of coffee, I clenched my teeth and called Hawkins. One buzz . . . two . . .
“Jurgen?” Hawkins actually laughed. “I’m busy with paperwork. Or what they used to call paperwork. Now I’m just filling out reports, and anything is better than that. What the hell do you want?”
I let my jaw relax, relieved that Hawkins wasn’t yelling at me. Yet. “The Rigo Holland murder. Yesterday morning? Do you know what killed him?”
“Knife wounds. But we didn’t find the knife. Funny that it wasn’t a stake. And that there was still a body. I didn’t know he was a vamp when I got there.”
“You said there was fur all over the place. Did the fur have blood on it?”
“Man, that seems like a long time ago.” I heard fingers tapping on keys. “Yeah, there was fur, and blood, and . . . what’s this about?”
I took a deep breath. “Does the blood on the fur match Holland’s blood type?”
“Hang on.” More tapping. “Well, what do you know? We don’t have any DNA back. But yeah, the blood types match. Does that mean something?”
“Maybe.” I’d started thinking about it last night. It was a theory without proof though. “Why are you in such a good mood today? You haven’t called me an asshole yet.”
Hawkins laughed. “Caught a gangbanger last night. Dead to rights. He’s in lockup right now, talking about his friends. We’re going to get two or three convictions out of this. I do get to arrest humans sometimes, you know.”
I sipped some coffee. “Good for you. Thanks.”
So maybe Rigo was killed by a werewolf with the same blood type.
Or maybe Rigo was a vampire . . . who was also a werewolf.
The first thing was to find out whether that was even possible. But both Anemone and Page were asleep. I did call and leave messages.
Then I moved on to some other work, keeping the problem in the back of my mind—how to ask the questions I wanted without getting killed.
The sun set at 5:46 p.m. Jason got up at 6:05. “Hi, I’m, uh—oh. Hi, mom. Hi, dad.”
They’d shown up at 5:30, just as I was waking up from a late afternoon nap. I was dreading this almost as much as the questions I had to ask later tonight.
Rick Johansson got up and wrapped his arms around Jason’s shoulders in a big bear hug. His wife was right behind.
I went into the kitchen for some coffee. When I came out, they were sitting around the table. “Coffee?”
Rick nodded. Jason stood up. “Can I have something to eat? Real food, I mean.”
I fetched coffee and cream for the Johanssons, and Jason made himself a sandwich with lots of meat. Then we sat down again.
“We want you to come home.” Rose’s voice was small but firm. Rick folded his arms.
Jason nodded with a sigh. “All right. But I have to go to this concert tonight.”
Rose’s shoulders stiffened. “That vampire band again?”
Jason glanced at me. “Yeah. One last time.”
One last time? I wondered what that meant, but I’d ask later. “I’ll take care of him. And get him home.”
Jason blinked. “You’re going? Is Rachel coming?”
“Who’s Rachel?” Rose looked suspicious.
“My girlfriend. Yes, probably. And I have some questions to ask. It’s on me.”
“No.” For a second I thought Rick was talking to his son, but he shook his head. “We’ll pay for you to see him home. As long as he stays.”
Jason nodded, tired. “I will.” Then he got up. “Can I take a shower?”
“I put towels out for you.”
Rose leaned forward, elbows on the table and hands on her face. “I don’t anything about—I know he’s not a child, I don’t have to raise him now, but this is . . . so different.”
Rick squeezed her wrist. “We’ll get through this. Together.”
I cleared my throat, feeling like an intruder. “Rachel used to run a support group for—situations like this.” Actually, it was for survivors of vampire attacks, but in the end it took in a lot of territory. “I’ll ask her if she knows anyone.”
“Will it be safe?” Rick crossed his arms again. “At this concert?”
Werewolves and vampires who hate each other? What could go wrong? I shrugged. “The band knows me. I wouldn’t go myself if I expected trouble.”
That was mostly true.
“What did you mean, ‘one last time’?” I was driving. Rachel sat next to me in a denim jacket, and Jason slouched in the back seat. On our way to the Atragon.
Anemone had called me back. Yes, it was possible for a vampire to become a werewolf. They were more dangerous than either vamps or werewolves, less able to control their impulses, harder to be killed. Did I need any help?
No, I told her, hoping I was right.
Jason leaned forward. “Did you ever read Catcher in the Rye?”
In high school. I’d hated it, but I could see why Holden Caulfield spoke to a certain type of depressed, alienated high school or college student.
“It was like that.” He sat back again. “I just needed to get out. Get away. I thought Vamperica could help me make sense of everything that was happening.”
He sighed. “But they’re screwed up. I knew that before last night. But I kept hanging on, hoping it would get better somehow.” He leaned over. “Now I just want to go home.”
I nodded and slowed the car. “I can take you there right now. If you want.”
“No.” Jason sat up again. “I need to do this. I have to talk to them one more time.”
I started looking for parking. “Just be careful.”
Rachel nudged me again. “You too.”
The auditorium was even more crowded than last night. I wondered where the fire marshals were. We sat at the back, surrounded by hundreds of teenagers and college-aged men and women. The aroma of beer and weed made clouds in the air under the shimmering lights.
The crowd ignored the opening act, shouting and arguing and throwing French fries at the stage. A few bouncers walked through the aisles, settling people down and occasionally dragging someone out to cool off.
The opening act finally finished, and the lights came up. It was 10:30. Vamperica had been scheduled to start at 10.
“They want to go first so they can go long,” Jason was standing between Rachel and me—a little closer to Rachel.
She’d dropped her denim jacket on a chair, and Jason was paying a little too much attention to her shoulders in her dark tank top. I didn’t blame him, exactly, but I couldn’t help pulling him away.
“I know. Weregild always go long when they’re first.” That’s what Adam told me. But there had to be a lot more to their rivalry than that. “Why do they really hate each other?”
“Because—because . . .”
Suddenly the auditorium got dark again, except for lights flaring on a glittering disco ball hanging from the ceiling.
Then spotlights hit the stage. Adam strode forward, his guitar strapped across his shoulder, wearing a leather vest and jeans. He strummed the strings and then leaned toward the microphone.
“This is for Rigo.” His voice boomed through the speakers.
Black sun rising
Black moon high
Black day coming
Dark clouds nigh
Dark doom heading
Across the sky
Better get ready
To live or die
Live or die . . .
Brandon walked out, holding his guitar like an assault rifle. He faced off with Adam like a fencer. They grinned at each other.
Then Tina, in cutoffs and a T-shirt, barefoot, dagger still strapped to her leg, grabbed the microphone.
Black day, black day, coming for a black day
Midnight on a black day, block out the sun for another black day
Make another black day, hide us from the bright day
Make it all black, all black . . .
The crowd, as they say, went wild. Even Rachel. She smiled at me and dropped her jacket on
Vamperica was scheduled to play a 45-minute set. They went on for an hour and five minutes, finishing with a 10-minute epic called “Deathbird” that ended with shrieking guitars and a shrieking Tina as half the fans around us howled in delight and the other half howled out for Weregild.
Finally the stage lights dimmed, and the auditorium lights rose. I checked the time. After midnight.
It was going to be a long night, and I’d have to drive Jason back to the suburbs after it was over.
I looked at Jason. “How long until they come on?”
“Soon.” Jason’s face was flushed. “They won’t want to—”
The lights in the auditorium went dark again. The floodlights over the stage flared.
Quentin, without a shirt, stalked forward in leather jeans. “Get ready, wolves,” he growled into the microphone. “Full moon’s coming.”
He stood silent in the middle of the stage, his guitar slung over his back as the crowd growled and hooted in response. Then the rest of the band came out and hooked up.
Valentine wore a short skirt and a tight tank top. She shook a tambourine, raising it above her head as Quentin unslung his guitar from his shoulder and the rest of the band took their positions.
“We are . . .” Quentin strummed a loud chord.
The crowd responded with a deafening roar. “WEREGILD!”
The onslaught of sound pouring from the amps felt like a hurricane wind. Rachel grabbed my shoulder as I staggered against my chair. “Best date ever!”
I tried to keep my mind on—oh, hell. I kissed her, and we didn’t exactly dance in the crowded aisle, but we made out a little bit while jostling against Weregild fans jumping up and down on all sides.
Full moon in the sky
Full moon, will you die?
Watch out for the moon
It’s coming . . . soon . . .
Rachel pushed me away. “You’re working, aren’t you?”
“Oh, right.” I turned. Jason was still there, dancing, not as enthusiastically as he had to Vamperica, but still enjoying the beat. I turned reluctantly away from Rachel to watch Weregild. I didn’t much care for the music, but I didn’t want to miss Quentin as a werewolf.
It didn’t happen until near the end of their set—50 minutes or so. They were playing a long loud song that squashed my brains, and in the middle of a lengthy guitar solo Quentin disappeared backstage. Lights flashed in a strobe effect, and when the guitar solo finished, Quentin—werewolf Quentin—leaped back onstage with a roar that shook the floor.
Bare-chested, covered in dark fur, Quentin waved his claws and snarled, revealing jagged yellow teeth. Valentine danced around him, taunting him with his tambourine.
The crowd roared in response to Quentin’s howls. The band played louder. I held Rachel’s hand, not sure if I was supporting her against the onslaught of noise or she was supporting me. But Jason kept dancing, flirting with girls and boys recklessly, like he was shipping out for Afghanistan in the morning.
The set ended after an hour, with Quentin still in werewolf mode, Valentine sweating through her tank top, and the rest of the band thrashing their guitars into a crescendo of tortured sonic ecstasy.
Lights came up, then down, then up again. Quentin, back as a human, bowed, his chest streaked with sweat. Valentine pumped a hand up and down. Then they exited the stage.
The lights slowly came up. And the throng started heading for the door.
I grabbed Jason’s arm. “Stay right here.”
“I know.” He was gasping for breath. “I just hope . . .”
The crowd thinned out. We made our way around the stage.
A bouncer stopped us. Female, in a tight black T-shirt and jeans. “Are you on the list?”
“Uh, I’m Jason Johansson. JJ.” He ran a hand over his sweaty hair. “Just check, please?”
I handed her my card, aware that she had enough muscles in her arms to kick my ass into next Tuesday. Rachel might have given her a good fight, but I was hoping to avoid violence.
She checked the list, looked at my card, and then stood aside, pulling the door. “Go ahead.”
Adam was in jeans and socks, his skin gleaming with sweat. Brandon gulped water from a gallon-sized bottle, and then poured half of it over his face.
Tina stood in her underwear, doing stretching exercises. The knife was there on her leg.
Rachel jabbed an elbow into my ribs. “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing.” I leaned over. “I need you to pay attention. I’ve got questions to ask. Can you do that?”
She smirked. “If you stop leering at her body.”
That was going to be tough. But I nodded.
Adam stood up. “What the hell are you doing here?”
“I just wanted . . .” Jason shrugged. “To say thanks. For everything. I won’t bother you again.” He backed away, bumping into Rachel.
Brandon set down his jug of water. “You didn’t bother us. Much. It’s just—”
“Oh, stop.” Tina grabbed a sweatshirt. “It’s been a long night. I just want to go home. Good night, Jason.”
“Okay.” Jason shrugged. “That’s all I wanted—”
Then a door in the back of the dressing room broke open. And all of Weregild stomped in.
“We won!” Quentin, in his human form again, still shirtless and sweaty, raised his arms over his head. “We totally won! Did you listen to that crowd?”
Adam rose up from his chair, his shoulders taut. “We both played. That was the deal. End of the night, we all get paid and go home.”
“But we were better.” Quentin was panting. “Admit it.”
Adam shook his head. “I don’t think so.”
“No!” Jason stepped forward. “Vamperica was better. They’re always better!”
Valentine grinned. “You again? Always hanging around. You’re so cute. I could eat you up.” She giggled.
“Stay away from him.” Adam pointed at the door behind Quentin. “Just go back to your room and go home.”
“Oh, it’s a long night tonight.” Quentin licked a long tongue over his lips. “Full moon tomorrow.”
This could go out of control quickly. Unfortunately, I could think of only one thing to do.
With a deep breath and a dry mouth, I stepped between the bands. “Before you, uh, start killing each other? I’d like to ask a few questions.”
Adam glared at me. Tina looked away. Quentin laughed. “Who the hell are you?”
“Tom Jurgen.” I fumbled for a card. “We talked on the phone. Nice to meet you in person. Nice show.” I glanced at Adam. “Both of you. Really.”
Rachel hid a snort.
“Ooh, a real P.I.” Valentine sidled up to me. “Do you pack heat?” She ran a hand up and down my side.
I backed away before Rachel started getting territorial. “No, sorry.” I backed up, making sure I had everyone in my sight.
Oh god. I was playing Hercule Poirot. All the suspects in one room. I only hoped I was right.
“Look.” I lifted a hand. “Rigo got killed. But the cops found a body. And fur, with Rigo’s blood type. And the only way to kill a vampire is to stake him. Right?” I looked at Brandon.
“Uh . . .” Brandon looked around the room. No one looked back. “I guess.”
“Yeah.” I lowered my hand. “But vamps can become werewolves. Right?”
“What the hell are you talking about?” Quentin lurched forward. I could see fur starting to sprout on his forearms.
“Yeah.” Tina pulled her sweatshirt down to her hips. “What are you saying?”
I glanced at Rachel. She nodded. So I asked my next question: “Did Rigo turn into a werewolf?”
“Hold on, hold on!” Adam pushed himself forward, grabbing at Tina’s arms. “What are you—what’s going on?”
I shot a look at Rachel. She nodded, her face pale, stepping backward toward the door. Let’s get out of here, her eyes said.
I nodded. “We’re going now. But one last question?” Now I was channeling Columbo. “That knife.” I pointed to Tina’s leg. “Is it made of silver?”
Tina didn’t answer, but her eyes gave me the answer anyway.
I looked at Quentin. “Can a silver knife kill a werewolf?”
He didn’t answer either. But Tina did. “Yes.” The word was a hiss.
I gulped. My throat was a dry as yesterday’s news. I wanted some water. I wanted to run away.
But I couldn’t quit before I finished the story. “So here’s a theory. I think Rigo did it with Valentine, became a werewolf, and then Tina . . . uh, found out.” I spread my hands. “I can’t go to the cops with it, and I don’t really care what you do between yourselves, but—”
“Yeah.” Valentine laughed. “Yeah, we did it. It was good. Not the best, but—”
“You whore!” Tina pulled her knife, her jaws wide and her fangs extended. “I’m going to drink every last drop of your blood, and then—”
Many things happened at once:
Rachel grabbed Jason’s arm and pulled him toward the door.
Tina lunged forward, her face twisted in fury.
Valentine jumped back, and Quentin pushed at Tina, his arms furry and strong.
Brandon jumped behind a chair.
Then Tina transformed, almost instantly. Instead of a short female tambourine player, she was a seven-foot tall wolf.
Quentin transformed too. Not to the shape he’d used in the show, but something bigger, more menacing. I remembered that a full moon was coming soon.
Adam lurched up, growling, ready to take him on.
Then the rest of the Weregild band transformed too.
Vamps versus werewolves. And the vamps were outnumbered.
Valentine screamed in glee as she slashed her claws at Tina’s throat. Tina screamed back, lunging at Valentine’s chest with her dagger.
Rachel yanked on the door and pushed him through. I followed, my heart pounding.
The female bouncer outside took one look into the dressing room and then shut the door. “They pay me to keep people out, not for what goes on inside.”
“You might want to call the cops once the noise dies down.” I staggered toward the stairs. “We have to go.”
I drove Jason home. He didn’t talk much, but his parents were awake and they thanked me again.
“You want me to drive?” Rachel sat next to me as Jason and his parents walked into the house.
“I’m fine.” I stared at the street. I could still hear the screams.
But there wasn’t anything I could do. If they wanted to kill each other . . .
Rachel put a hand on my shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“I started a massacre.” I laid my head down on the wheel. “Are any of them still alive?”
Rachel put a hand on my shoulder. “You’re taking the pills, right?”
The medications for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Dr. Neral was going to enjoy our next session. “I’m fine. I think.”
“Okay.” She sat back in her seat. “Let’s go home and get some sleep.”
“Yeah.” I started the Honda.
Yeah. Best date ever.